By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – Following what turned out to be a stinging 4-3 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters pointed out the numerical theory his team was playing with.
“A lot of nights it’s 2-1 – three (goals) is enough to win, so let’s tighten up,” Peters said.
“We’re givin’ up too much. As a team we’re givin’ up too many shots, too many scoring chances. We’re givin’ up to many goals, and that’s on everybody.”
Thus, after assuming a 3-2 lead following the first two periods, the plan for the final 20 minutes was to ride it out with proper and effective defensive play and earn the one-goal victory.
When asked what was missing, he said this: “It’s 3-2 and under 10 minutes to go, I would change how we play a little bit. You don’t need to make it four.”
You mean instead of playing for a 4-2 lead while ratcheting up the forechecking and defensive pressure, you’d rather fall into a defensive shell and hold on for dear life to win 3-2?
Unfortunately, that didn’t work out against the Ducks.
Now I understand why this team, as currently constructed, will likely once again inch close to the wildcard playoff spot, but not assert itself to grab it.
It simply can’t, and Peters prefaced that with his version of Canes math.
He believes three goals for and two goals against wins games in this NHL.
A fair assumption, but one that is predicated on his team playing perfect, if not flawless, defense with the corresponding offensive output to go with it.
To average two goals against overall is a high watermark to achieve, but that’s what he’s basically saying is necessary because his team struggles to score three, let alone four goals per game.
I believe and always have, that four goals for and three against does the trick to make the playoffs in this league.
If you look at the teams currently sitting in that spot – yes, they’ve only played 10 games – they are all averaging three-plus goals per game.
That must mean they’ve scored four-plus goals on more than a few occasions.
Why put pressure on your defensive play and goaltenders to hold teams with such talented offensive players, as most have, to two goals.
It’s a coach’s theoretical and hypothetical dream with all variables accounted for with no injuries, consistent systems play, high shooting/scoring percentage, and flawless defending and goaltending.
On average, it’s not going to happen – almost impossible to happen.
Overemphasis on defensive systems, particularly to naturally skilled offensive players who will eventually become stifled, will then become average and second-guess their abilities.
Thus, why not focus on pushing the offensive play more to generate the goals as they come and let such players – Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, and Elias Lindholm to name a few – breathe and feel good about going to the net with the high expectation that they have to finish the play and score.
Carolina’s floundering power play, or any man-up situation, including with the extra skater in comeback attempts, has illustrated their collective offensive struggles.
The comfort level, fluidity in their finish, and a little bad luck hitting numerous posts is only increasing the pressure to finish.
They weren’t able to beat Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller on overtime breakaways and a shootout with the combined 12 chances they had to do so.
Granted, at the other end, Carolina must defend harder with a physical presence, and not just swatting pucks to open areas.
The reason the Hurricanes are the lowest penalized team in the league, keeping a clean sheet for the past two games (both losses by the way), is that they don’t impose themselves aggressively to gain the puck back.
Yes, it’s a nicer looking game the Hurricanes play, Euro-style and all with effective and modest body contact, fast-paced skating and passing, and creating turnovers and putting pucks into open ice to get to first to create scoring chances.
All good stuff, but it’s tough to replicate when the other team throws a wrench into that plan.
Opposing teams are not intimidated by them, and talented, system-oriented squads will do the same and counter accordingly.
It hasn’t been a secret that offensive production has hindered this team for years now, so the overemphasis on defense is understandable.
The Hurricanes scored three goals against Anaheim, but the Ducks scored four and won the game.
Pick which Canes math theory you want – Peters’ three goals for and two against or my four goals and three against.
It seems that either way, this team is still missing something and/or not combining its variables correctly.
The math doesn’t lie.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport